Altari / Kröflueldar a Unique and Fascinating Twist on Icelandic Black Metal

It’s been nine years in the making, but Kröflueldar, the debut studio album from Icelandic Black Metal band Altari is finally upon us and what a unique and fascinating listen it is too. Kröflueldar, meaning electric fires, is named after a series of eruptions that happened at Krafla in Iceland in 1975 over a coincidentally nine-year period of seismic activity, resulting in over twenty-four eruptions in the area.

Altari – Kröflueldar (Svart Records)

Release Date: 14 April 2023

Words: Jools Green

Kröflueldar is a seven-track, thirty-five-minute offering that brings something very different to Black Metal to such an extent it’s hard to define. Such is its avant-garde nature, which for me, is its biggest charm.

Even the psychedelic-style album cover, created by guitarist K.R.Guðmundsson, which represents the overall scenario of storms and lava when a volcano erupts, is decidedly atypical of a Black Metal artwork.

Everything about this well-considered, well-created and well-delivered album challenges the ideas and boundaries of the genre, and I love that. You also get a very strong mental image created by the overall sound of this release, of the very bleak turbulent landscape of Iceland as a whole, and that’s very Black Metal.

Many of the influences behind the release help shape it into the very different listen that it is, such as having its sound foundations in the classic eras of early Judas Priest. “Bands such as Blue Öyster Cult, Interpol and Killing Joke were a big inspiration for us as well for the use of clean guitars as the sound for leads,” guitarist and vocalist Ó.Þ.Guðjónsson explains. “I expressed a desire to find some balance between the overdriven rhythm and melodic yet clean leads. These bands helped us find that.”

He continues, saying the intention was an “overall desire for us to get away from the sound that has been a gateway for others here in the scene,” something in which they have succeeded, thereby creating an album that is very different.

I love the otherworldly feel of the distant drums and haunting pipes at the start of the opening piece Kröflueldar, building into dark, haunting riffs that ebb and rise into a dark, doomy soundscape, with vocals that push through, ranging from raw and rasping to cleaner and haunting, a magnificently dark atmospheric and evocative piece.

An eerie opening soundscape and a scream expand into a blackened groove on Djáknahrollur, with a psychedelic, Hawkwind-esque undercurrent that builds and comes to the fore midway, dropping back to a blackened groove, but that psychedelic element remains.

Leðurblökufjandinn has the discordant quality of Voivod in the way melody and disharmony are melded, with very acidic rasping vocals all incorporated into a darker core, a superbly mesmerising piece.

Sýrulúður is as eerie as it gets, largely thanks to the vocals of Gyða Margrét, which add a delicate and misty, brooding atmosphere as her voice becomes entwined in the equally eerie and subtle guitar and drum work. In contrast, Hin Eina Sanna is haunting, deceptively complex and topped with pounding rhythms and cavernous vocals and a psychedelic undercurrent, an overwhelmingly all-encompassing beast of a track.

Vítisvilltur is so eerily dark and thought-provoking part of my mind expected it, on first listen, to suddenly rip forth, leaving me on tenterhooks for its duration. But instead, it stayed on the same tantalisingly eerie, engagingly convoluted path throughout. But even though I was expecting a more brutal route to be carved by this track, it didn’t disappoint.

The final piece, Grafarþögn, delivers one last dose of dark hypnotic Black Metal, the vocals acidic, ripping through the haunting repeat melody. The one other impressive aspect across the release I haven’t mentioned is the drum work. It’s subtly complex, unpredictable yet fluid and very jazz-like, but with a unique album like this, you’d expect the drum work to be equally beyond the norm.

Kröflueldar definitely puts a unique twist on Icelandic Black Metal. Give it a listen, and you won’t be disappointed. It should certainly be of interest to fans of Craft, Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord Misþyrming and Sinmara.

Sleeve Notes

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